Vitamin E has been identified as a potential new weapon against obesity-related health problems in research out of the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.
The study, which included collaborators from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and Cornell University, discovered the essential nutrient can alleviate symptoms of liver disease brought on by obesity — a condition that affects millions of overweight Americans.
"The implications of our findings could have a direct impact on the lives of the approximately 63 million Americans who are at potential risk for developing obesity-related liver disease in their lifetimes," said Danny Manor, an associate professor of nutrition an pharmacology at Case Western.
The team’s findings, presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in Boston, were discovered by accident while conducting experiments on laboratory mice, Manor said.
He explained that researchers were studying the effects of vitamin E deficiency on the central nervous system, and "we used liver tissue to practice our surgical techniques." But the team noticed that the mice were in fact in the advanced stages of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) — a common complication of obesity that leads to fat accumulation, oxidative stress, and inflammation in the liver. It is a major cause of tissue scarring known as cirrhosis that can lead to liver failure and cancer.
But when the researchers gave the mice the essential antioxidant, Manor said they found "supplementation with vitamin E averted the majority of NASH-related symptoms in these animals, confirming the relationship between vitamin E deficiency and liver disease."
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He added: "These findings may have a significant impact on public health as the vast majority of adults in the United States do not consume the amount of vitamin E recommended by the National Institute of Medicine."
For adults, the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin E is 15 milligrams a day. Vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, and fortified cereals all contain vitamin E.
"Simple and affordable dietary intervention may benefit people at risk for this debilitating disease," Manor said, noting "NASH piggybacks on the two great epidemics of our time: obesity and type 2 diabetes."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of adults and one-sixth of children in the U.S. are clinically obese, while nearly one in 10 Americans suffers from diabetes.
Manor’s research was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
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